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By "the Prayer to Saint Michael" is usually meant one particular prayer among the various ones that are addressed to Michael the archangel. This is the Prayer to Saint Michael that was directed to be said after Low Mass in the Catholic Church from 1886 to 1964.
Other prayers to Saint Michael have also been officially approved.
English translation used in Ireland
The English translation that was used in Ireland is quoted in Ulysses of James Joyce. Variant English translations have "Holy Michael", "Saint Michael", "defend us in battle", "malice and snares", "may God rebuke him", "all evil spirits", "prowl through the world seeking the ruin", and other differences.
The prayer's opening words are similar to the Alleluia verse for Saint Michael’s feasts on 8 May and 29 September in the Roman Missal of the time, which ran, "Sancte Michael, defende nos in proelio ut non pereamus in tremendo iudicio".
The 'Leonine Prayers' originated in 1884, when Pope Leo XIII ordered certain prayers to be said after Low Mass, in defence of the independence of the Holy See. God's help was sought for a satisfactory solution to the loss of the Pope's temporal sovereignty, which deprived him of the evident independence required for effective use of his spiritual authority. The prayer to St Michael described above was added to the Leonine Prayers in 1886.
The Pope's status as a temporal leader was resolved in 1929 by the creation of the State of Vatican City, and in the following year, Pope Pius XI ordered that the intention for which these prayers should from then on be offered was "to permit tranquillity and freedom to profess the faith to be restored to the afflicted people of Russia".
The practice of reciting this and the other Leonine prayers after Mass was officially suppressed by the 26 September 1964 Instruction Inter Oecumenici which came into effect on 7 March 1965.
Removing the obligation to recite the prayer after Low Mass did not mean forbidding its use either privately or publicly in other circumstances; indeed, in his Regina Caeli Address on Sunday 24 April 1994, Pope John Paul II recommended its use, saying:
"May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle that the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of: 'Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might' (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St Michael the Archangel (cf. Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had this picture in mind when, at the end of the last century, he brought in, throughout the Church, a special prayer to St Michael: 'Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil...' Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world."
On 18 May 1890, twenty years after the capture of Rome had deprived the Pope of the last vestige of his temporal sovereignty, and the papal residence at the Quirinal Palace had been converted into that of the King of Italy, Pope Leo XIII granted indulgences to bishops and to priests lawfully authorized by their ordinaries who each day would devoutly recite a formula of exorcism against Satan and the rebel angels.
O glorious Archangel St. Michael, Prince of the heavenly host, defend us in battle, and in the struggle which is ours against the principalities and Powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against spirits of evil in high places (Eph 6:12). Come to the aid of men, whom God created immortal, made in his own image and likeness, and redeemed at a great price from the tyranny of the devil (Wis 2:23-24, 1 Cor 6:20).
Fight this day the battle of the Lord, together with the holy angels, as already thou hast fought the leader of the proud angels, Lucifer, and his apostate host, who were powerless to resist thee, nor was there place for them any longer in Heaven. But that cruel, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil or Satan, who seduces the whole world, was cast into the abyss with all his angels (Rev 12:7-9).
Behold, this primeval enemy and slayer of man has taken courage, Transformed into an angel of light, he wanders about with all the multitude of wicked spirits, invading the earth in order to blot out the name of God and of his Christ, to seize upon, slay and cast into eternal perdition souls destined for the crown of eternal glory. This wicked dragon pours out, as a most impure flood, the venom of his malice on men of depraved mind and corrupt heart, the spirit of lying, of impiety, of blasphemy, and the pestilent breath of impurity, and of every vice and iniquity.
These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the spouse of the Immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions (Lam 3:15).
In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of their abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered.
Arise then, O invincible prince, bring help against the attacks of the lost spirits to the people of God, and bring them the victory.
The Church venerates thee as protector and patron; in thee holy Church glories as her defense against the malicious powers of this world and of hell; to thee has God entrusted the souls of men to be established in heavenly beatitude.
Oh, pray to the God of peace that He may put Satan under our feet, so far conquered that he may no longer be able to hold men in captivity and harm the Church. Offer our prayers in the sight of the Most High, so that they may quickly conciliate the mercies of the Lord; and beating down the dragon, the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, do thou again make him captive in the abyss, that he may no longer seduce the nations. Amen.
This formula was not meant as a rite for exorcising a particular person but "for general use - to combat the power of the evil spirits over a community or locality".
The prayer to Saint Michael that was included in this general exorcism had in fact been published and indulgenced two years earlier, in 1888, two years after the insertion of the more familiar Prayer to Saint Michael into the Leonine Prayers.
In 1902, a year and a half before the death of Pope Leo XIII, a new edition of the Roman Ritual considerably shortened the formula as a whole and in particular the prayer to Saint Michael within it, making that prayer a sort of preface to the prayer of exorcism. The prayer was shorn of the preceding version's paragraphs 2-6 and of the phrase "in thee holy Church glories as her defense against the malicious powers of this world and of hell" in paragraph 7.
In his English version of the Roman Ritual, Philip T. Weller gives the following translation:
St. Michael the Archangel, illustrious leader of the heavenly army, defend us in the battle against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of darkness and the spirit of wickedness in high places. Come to the rescue of mankind, whom God has made in His own image and likeness, and purchased from Satan's tyranny at so great a price. Holy Church venerates you as her patron and guardian. The Lord has entrusted to you the task of leading the souls of the redeemed to heavenly blessedness. Entreat the Lord of peace to cast Satan down under our feet, so as to keep him from further holding man captive and doing harm to the Church. Carry our prayers up to God's throne, that the mercy of the Lord may quickly come and lay hold of the beast, the serpent of old, Satan and his demons, casting him in chains into the abyss, so that he can no longer seduce the nations.
Anthony Cekada and Brian Kelly suggest that improved relations between the Holy See and the Kingdom of Italy, which from 1900 was under a new king, lay behind the 1902 excision of phrases such as "These most crafty enemies have filled and inebriated with gall and bitterness the Church, the spouse of the Immaculate Lamb, and have laid impious hands on her most sacred possessions", and "In the Holy Place itself, where has been set up the See of the most holy Peter and the Chair of Truth for the light of the world, they have raised the throne of the abominable impiety, with the iniquitous design that, when the Pastor has been struck, the sheep may be scattered." These phrases have been interpreted as referring to the confiscation of Church property by the government of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy and to the occupation by the King of Italy of the Quirinal Palace, which had been the Pope's residence and seat of civil government.
In 1999, the Vatican issued a revised version of its Rite of Exorcism. The Latin text of the 1902 prayer to St Michael was retained, unedited, in Appendix I. The Latin text of the 1886 prayer is also included, in Appendix II.
The Opus Sanctorum Angelorum presents the following prayer as an Act of Consecration to Saint Michael the Archangel:
Oh most noble Prince of the Angelic Hierarchies, valorous warrior of Almighty God and zealous lover of His glory, terror of the rebellious angels, and love and delight of all the just angels, my beloved Archangel Saint Michael, desiring to be numbered among your devoted servants, I, today offer and consecrate myself to you, and place myself, my family, and all I possess under your most powerful protection.
I entreat you not to look at how little, I, as your servant have to offer, being only a wretched sinner, but to gaze, rather, with favorable eye at the heartfelt affection with which this offering is made, and remember that if from this day onward I am under your patronage, you must during all my life assist me, and procure for me the pardon of my many grievous offenses, and sins, the grace to love with all my heart my God, my dear Savior Jesus, and my Sweet Mother Mary, and to obtain for me all the help necessary to arrive to my crown of glory.
Defend me always from my spiritual enemies, particularly in the last moments of my life.
Come then, oh Glorious Prince, and succor me in my last struggle, and with your powerful weapon cast far from me into the infernal abysses that prevaricator and proud angel that one day you prostrated in the celestial battle. Amen.
An article in the Roman journal Ephemerides Liturgicae (V. LXIX, pages 54–60) in 1955 gave an account in Latin and Italian of how the St. Michael prayer (in the Leonine Prayers) originated. Footnote nine of this account quotes an article in another Italian journal called La Settimana del Clero in 1947 by Fr. Domenico Pechenino who worked at the Vatican during the time of Leo XIII, in which he said that after Leo XIII had celebrated a Mass he seemed to be staring at something, then went to his private office, with his attendants asking if he was well. Half an hour later he had written the St Michael prayer.
According to the same article in Ephemerides Liturgicae, Cardinal Giovanni Nasalli Rocca di Corneliano wrote in his Litteris Pastoralibus pro Quadragesima (Pastoral Letters for Lent) that according to Leo's private secretary, Monsignor Rinaldo Angeli, Leo XIII had seen a vision of demonic spirits who were congregating on the Eternal City (Rome); he wrote the St Michael prayer, and often said it, in response. Leo XIII also personally wrote an exorcism that is included in the Roman Ritual, and recommended that bishops and priests read these exorcisms often in their dioceses and parishes. He himself often recited them. Several variants of this story are told, e.g., that the pope was carried off by those around him to another room where he came around, or a detailed conversation between a voice apparently of Satan, who says he will destroy the Church, another attributed to God, who tells him to do what he will. According to a Father William Saunders writing in the Arlington Catholic Herald of 2 October 2003, Leo said that God gave Satan the choice of one century in which to do his worst work against the Church, and the devil chose the 20th century. 
The first variant of the story to appear in print was in a 1933 German Sunday newspaper article, which stated that, as a result of the vision, Leo XIII, shortly after 1880, ordered the prayer to Saint Michael to be recited. In reality, it was only in 1884 that the Pope instituted the Leonine Prayers, still at that time without the prayer to Saint Michael.
In 1934, a year after the appearance of the earliest printed version of the story, a German writer, Father Bers, tried to trace the origin of the story and declared that, though the story was widespread, nowhere could he find a trace of proof. Sources close to the institution of the prayer in 1886, including an account of a conversation with Pope Leo XIII about his decision, say nothing of the alleged vision. Father Bers concluded that the story was a later invention that was spreading like a virus. The story is also found in Carl Vogl's 1935 Begone Satan: A Soul-Stirring Account of Diabolical Possession in Iowa.
In a later version, the vision is said to have occurred, not in 1880, but on 13 October 1884, the year in which the Leonine Prayers were instituted but without the Prayer to Saint Michael. And yet another date, 25 September 1888, two years after Pope Leo XIII had added the prayer to the Leonine Prayers, was given in a 1991 version.